Author's Notes:Well, this is the final chapter, but I warn you, the angst factor goes up before matters are finally resolved.
Chapter 10 - Homecoming
Darian followed the elf to the kitchens. He was swiftly given food: new, warm bread, meat carved off the spits in the hearth, cool water drawn from the springs below Lasgalen, a flask of wine. Having lived off trail rations for the past two days, it seemed a feast. He ate swiftly, drinking the fresh water gratefully, but leaving the wine. He was unused to it, and did not wish to appear muddle-headed in front of the elves.
"How did you come to be in Lasgalen?" asked Amdír, who had served him.
"Your messenger came through my village two days ago. I could see he was injured, and feared he would not make it through the forest. I ... could not leave him to ride on alone, so decided to go with him. Your people helped my village two years ago, when we suffered from severe flooding. It was something I could do in return. That's all."
"Your village ... Verush? Is that it?"
Darian nodded, surprised that the elf knew of it.
"Then you may remember our prince. Legolas brought one of his patrols to you to help."
Darian vividly remembered the elves who had helped save his village. They had worked alongside the villagers, drenched from the teeming rain, digging ditches to divert flood waters, filling sandbags, moving food supplies to higher ground. The one in charge had been the butt of much humour when he slipped, falling full length in the filthy water. He had sat there, dripping, hair a muddy brown, swearing like a foot soldier - in Westron. Legolas ... yes, that had been the name.
"He said Elvish didn't contain the words he needed to say" said Darian, relating the tale.
Amdír gave a wry smile. "Yes, that sounds like Legolas."
"He was your prince? I had no idea. I'm truly sorry for your loss."
His companion inclined his head, acknowledging Darian's words. "Please, come with me. A room has been prepared for you. You will find us poor company tonight, but tomorrow we will arrange an escort for you. There are ... messages to take to our kindred."
It was just over a day after Nifael's arrival that Legolas reached Lasgalen. As he approached, something seemed wrong. He frowned, trying to identify what it was. He felt a slight sense of unease, not much as yet, but there was something, and there did not seem to be any shadows from Dol Guldur. The forest sounds were there, birdsong and insects, the constant murmur of leaves stirring. So what was it?
He realised he had not seen or heard anyone yet. Normally there would be hunting parties out, the sound of weapons practice from the armoury, voices, shouts and laughter. There was nothing. The whole of Lasgalen seemed deserted. Where was everyone? What had happened?
There was still no sense of evil, but the stillness was unnerving. A deep sense of unease, growing to dread, crept upon Legolas as he came to the two tall trees that marked the entrance to Lasgalen, and he stopped dead, staring in shock. Usually two banners flew from tall poles, one bearing the sign of a tree, and the other the oak-leaf symbol and insignia of Lasgalen, so familiar he barely noticed them normally.
But now it was different. The banners fluttered half-way down the poles, and both had the white edge of mourning. It signified a death in the royal household. Legolas could just remember seeing the banners like this once before, when his mother had died.
Legolas stared at the banners numbly, still disbelieving. It could only mean one thing. His father was dead. But how? What had happened? He swallowed against a hard lump in his throat, and realised he was shaking.
He dismounted from Pavisel, leaving him to graze, and slowly crossed the bridge to the doors. The sentries stared at him, startled, and one spoke, but he took no notice, did not even hear him. He headed instinctively for the Great Hall where feasts were held, and where his father sat in judgement, or to hear requests or petitions. It was now silent and deserted. Somehow the stillness, more than anything else, convinced him that his father was indeed gone.
Thranduil's crown lay abandoned on a small table at the side of the throne. It was crafted of autumn leaves, berries, nuts and acorns, and changed with the seasons. Legolas touched it with one hand, so gently the leaves did not stir or even rustle. He closed his eyes in desperate sorrow, and clenched his hands into fists.
"Oh, my father, what happened to you?" he murmured. "Why was I not here? If I had not gone to Imladris, if I had returned with Nifael, maybe I would have been with you when you needed me. I'm sorry. I should have been here."
Slowly Legolas sank down to sit on the steps of the throne - his now, he realised with a sudden jolt. He was king of Lasgalen. It was a title he had never wanted, or even expected to inherit. His life as a warrior had made the succession uncertain at times. Although as a child he had often sat there, pretending, now that it was real, it was different.
Strangely, it was his mother's death he now remembered. That had been so very, very long ago - he had been a child of just ten. There had been a long, dark night, full of grim faces, hurried whispers and running feet.
He had known there was something wrong, but no-one would tell him anything. No-one had come to send him to bed. No-one even noticed him, crouched in a corner of the corridor.
Later, much later, his father came to him. He was crying. He had explained, haltingly, that Telparian had gone to join grandfather Oropher in the Halls of Mandos - and the new baby sister had gone with her.
It was scant consolation, now, to know that Thranduil had at last been reunited with her. With all of them.
He remembered, as well, the close bond he had had with his father, the lively discussions they had had - furious arguments, sometimes - mostly about Thranduil's isolationist policies, his mistrust of other races, what Legolas saw as his father's over protectiveness. While Legolas had finally won this final argument, there had been little movement in other areas. Thranduil could never forget his experiences in Mordor in the Last Alliance, and what he saw as Isildur's weakness and treachery .
But over recent years things had improved. The trade agreements between Lasgalen and Lake Town were now far more amicable, and there were even trade negotiations - albeit limited - with the dwarves of the Lonely Mountain. The Battle of Five Armies had changed many things.
Legolas had been furious with his father when he found out about the imprisonment of the dwarves. Even Thranduil had reluctantly admitted that he had been wrong. After their mystifying escape, there had been intense negotiations with Bard about Thorin, and while Thranduil would not lift the siege completely, Legolas had convinced him not to strike the first blows, or start the war for gold.
When the goblins and wargs had attacked so suddenly, everything had changed. Legolas and his father had been fighting desperately, side by side, all differences with the dwarves forgotten. At the end, Thorin had fallen, but Thranduil had made his peace with the dwarf, and returned Orcrist to him before he died.
There were other memories, too, of rides together beneath the beeches of Lasgalen, of laughter, shared moments, the time when Alfiel, Tirnan and Tionel had managed to get both Legolas and Thranduil drunk on the Dorwinion wine - much to the mirth of all present.
But that was all finished now, no more. Now all that was left were the memories.
Tionel came in at the far end of the hall by the windows. He carried a large glass bowl, painted with scenes of the Battle of Five Armies, a gift from the people of Lake Town. Thranduil was depicted on it, and Legolas, together with the dwarves, Bard, and the great eagles. Tionel did not immediately notice the still figure, sitting with head bowed on the steps. When the image registered itself on his mind, he stared, his face ashen. The glass bowl slipped from nerveless fingers and smashed into a thousand rainbow coloured shards, glinting in the sunlight.
Legolas turned sharply at the crash. He had been so lost in thought he had not heard Tionel enter. He stood, blinking away tears.
"Tionel. Where is everyone? What - what happened?"
Tionel stood staring at him for so long Legolas wondered if he had spoken aloud. Then, very hesitantly, the steward answered.
"My Lord?" He sounded puzzled.
"I just rode in." Legolas explained. "Didn't you get my message? I ... saw the banners outside." He paused before he could continue. "I know my father is dead, but will you please tell me what happened!" His grief was beginning to be replaced by exasperation and anger.
Tionel was still staring at him, dumbfounded. Then he shook himself, as if coming out of a daze. His usual commonsense began to re-assert itself. "You sent a message?"
"Yes, with Nifael." Legolas replied. "Didn't he deliver it? I'll have his ears for this! Tionel, will you please just answer me!"
"Legolas, Nifael was attacked by orcs on the road here. He wasn't very coherent when he arrived. I think his message was - misunderstood."
"He was attacked? Is he all right? What do you mean, the message was misunderstood? And what has it got to do with my father?"
Tionel concentrated on the most important thing. "There is nothing wrong with your father, other than a broken heart. The message we received said you were dead - Legolas, Lasgalen is in mourning for you, not your father!"
Legolas sank back down onto the steps, trying to understand the chain of events. One simple fact shone clear, like a beacon. His father was alive. That was all that mattered. The relief hit him like a blow.
"Thank the Valar" he whispered softly. Then the secondary fact hit him, almost as hard. "Wait a minute, he thinks I'm dead? Tionel, I must go to him. Where is he?"
Legolas ran swiftly up the stairs, two at a time, as he made his way to his father's rooms. He wondered how his straightforward message could have been so misunderstood, with such devastating consequences.
At the door to his father's room, he paused, uncharacteristically hesitant. What, in the name of all the Valar, could he say? 'Hello, I'm back, by the way, I'm not dead.' Legolas shook his head in frustration. The succession of shocks was clearly affecting his mind. The words did not matter.
He opened the door and slipped into the room. There was a table just inside the door, bearing two trays. One held vegetables and meat - venison, cooked in a rich sauce. It was cold and congealed. An unopened flask of wine stood on the tray. A second tray held bread and fruit, also untouched.
Legolas crossed the room to where his father stood, staring out of the windows at the tops of the tallest trees in the forest. Thranduil turned slowly at the soft sound of footsteps behind him.
"Tionel, I don't ...." He broke off, staring in unbelieving hope.
"Father" said Legolas in the same instant. Father and son gazed at one another, and swiftly closed the short gap between them.
In the end, there was no need for words at all.
Later, Legolas went to the infirmary to see Nifael. A message had come from Tirana that he had regained consciousness, and was utterly mortified at the consequences of his misheard message.
Nifael sat bolt upright as he saw Legolas approaching. "My Lord! I'm sorry my Lord, it's all my fault. I took the wrong turning, and was attacked by goblins. I lost your letter, and when I got to Lasgalen ...."
"When he got here, your fool of a second didn't hear what he was saying." Alfiel finished from behind him. "Legolas, I'm sorry. I didn't hear all of Nifael's message. The part I did hear ..... I should have made certain. I'm sorry."
"It's past now. It's all right. Neither of you did anything wrong, it was just - unfortunate." *And that must be the understatement of all time* Legolas thought.
Nifael described how he had got lost, and the orc attack: "I should have been more careful. I lost the letter, and couldn't even deliver your message properly. I'm sorry, my Lord."
"Nifael, stop it. I told you, you did nothing wrong. You acted in the highest traditions of the messenger service, you are a credit to them. Despite your injuries, you delivered your message safely. You did well."
Nifael glowed at the praise. "Thank you, my Lord!"
"However, there is one more thing I have to say to you. I want you to listen carefully." Legolas sounded deadly serious now, and Nifael's smile faded. He looked apprehensive.
"Stop saying 'my Lord' all the time. I have a name. Please use it."
Nifael's smile had returned, and Alfiel was trying not to laugh.
"Yes, my - Legolas. I'll try."
Legolas turned to the healer. "Tirana! There's a feast tonight. Will he be well enough to come?"
Tirana looked at Nifael gravely. "No, he won't - but I'll not try to stop him! You can go, but be careful. No dancing!"
"Your father's ordered a celebration, then?" asked Alfiel.
"He didn't need to. From what I saw as I came past the kitchens, it was organising itself!"
News of Legolas' return had spread even faster than Nifael's original message, fuelled by Tionel, and the guards at the entrance who had seen Legolas. Its progress could be followed by the sound of shouts, joyous laughter, and cries of elation. As night fell, lamps were lit, hanging in the trees, floating on the water, until the whole of Lasgalen seemed ablaze with light.
The feast was memorable. There was meat, huge haunches of venison spit-roasted over open fires, freshly baked breads, vegetables grown in the palace gardens, and wine - even the Dorwinion, that Thranduil normally kept for himself.
The laughter, music and song echoed around Lasgalen, penetrating deep into the forest, as the celebrations lasted far into the night.
Responses to Reviewers:
gemstone: I certainly intended this chapter to be emotional, but I'm not sure about funny. Not this time. Yes, poor Thranduil. This wasn't an easy time for him.
PuterPatty: Hilarious? It's not meant to be! This is meant to be an angsty chapter. (I must be slipping ....) Poor Nifael, he's so serious, but its really not his fault. The elves helping the villagers is mostly due to Legolas' influence, the others are still rather suspicious of outsiders. I hope you liked the reunion scene.
Treehugger: I love the way you write your reviews, I can see your reactions to each part of the story so clearly. It's the next best thing to being there when someone reads it. It's a tremendous help as to which parts work best - and which don't. I wasn't too sure about including Darian, but really couldn't see how Nifael could make it through the forest on his own with all those spiders. I'm glad people like him. He's certainly brave. And poor Thranduil (can I copyright that?) - I know I said give him a break, but I certainly put him through some hard times!
Jocelyn: Great to hear from you again. You're not the only one who does angst! You were actually closest to the truth in this chapter - Legolas does indeed just show up at the door. I love your new story, it's even better than 'Nudge' (though that didn't make me cry) - and thanks for the credit.
arabella thorne: I'm glad you liked it, even though things are difficult for Thranduil and Nifael. At last the truth is known.
Larus: A new reviewer! Thanks! I'm glad you liked the twist. No more twins this story, but they will be along in another.
YunaDax: Another new reviewer! Thank you for your support, I like your sentiments! Do I qualify for the BMTL brigade after this chapter? There'll be plenty of peril in the next stories.
Legilmalith (IrishElf):Congratulations on registering. Like the new name. I must confess I've never been to Ireland - where are you from? I'm glad you're enjoying this story and liked the chapter.
And to everyone else: Thanks for reading, even if you are a lurker! Every now and again a new reviewer signs in, so I know there's others out there. A new story will be along soon!